The upcoming release of the Roku Channel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story has generated quite a bit of interest in the origins of its titular character, who is often regarded as one of the most unusual personas in pop-culture history. But based on the trailer, it seems that the Daniel Radcliffe–starring biopic will parody biopics at least as much (if not more than) it will chronicle the beats of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s actual career.
While not exactly surprising, the biopic (which promises to be a rollicking fusion of fact and fiction) does raise an obvious question: What is the Al Yankovic story?
A new book coming this fall from 1984 Publishing seeks to answer it in images. Lights, Camera, Accordion! features more than 300 photos taken of Yankovic by Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, who’s been both his drummer and de facto archivist for more than three decades.
The volume covers the years from 1981 to 2006, starting before the band had even scored a record deal. As readers progress along the visual timeline, Schwartz also regales them with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about how some of Yankovic’s most iconic tracks came to be. Take “Smells Like Nirvana,” for example: The parody of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” may never have existed if Yankovic hadn’t gotten help from his former UHF co-star Victoria Jackson and phoned Kurt Cobain when he was in the NBC studio for a Saturday Night Live appearance.
“Cobain inquired, ‘Is it going to be about food?’ and Al replied, ‘No, it’s going to be about how no one can understand your lyrics,’” Schwartz writes. “Kurt thought that was funny, gave Al the okay, and things moved very quickly after that.”
And if it hadn’t been for MTV, Yankovic may never have risen to such fame in the first place. As Schwartz explains in the book, it was MTV that helped catapult “Eat It”—a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”—onto the charts back in 1984. “MTV’s role in Al’s exposure and popularity should not be underestimated,” he writes.
Overall, Lights, Camera, Accordion! is an entertaining pictorial tribute to a one-of-a-kind musician by someone who knows him better than most. It’s also proof that the weirdness doesn’t stop as soon as “Weird Al” leaves the stage.
The book will hit bookstores on Tuesday, November 15—just after the Friday, November 4 streaming debut of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story—and you can pre-order it now from Amazon ($40).